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FINESTRE: An Extraordinary Week of International Theater Exchange @ TAC Teatro in Aubervilliers

April 17, 2023
bradspurgeon

Workout at Finestre

Workout at Finestre

AUBERVILLIERS, France – I am still recovering 10 days later from an amazing week of work at TAC Teatro (3-7 April), where Ornella Bonventre and her company met with nine other companies or theater individuals from around the world to exchange their practices and put on a final show for the public. Finestre means “window” in Italian, and the second part of the name of this annual meeting is: “On the Young Theater:” Finestre Sul Giovane Teatro. The meeting has been held for the last 14 years at the Teatro Ridotto in Bologna, Italy, by Lina Della Rocca, the director, and usually involved only Italian companies. After Ornella and Lina met last May, they decided to hold the meeting in France this year, and for the first time make it an international festival. It was a huge amount of organizational work for Ornella and TAC Teatro, but with the support of the city of Aubervilliers, she pulled it off. What a week! What discoveries! Oh, yeah, and what a lack of sleep! But all worth it.

There were more than 30 performers from all around the world, and my job was to film and photograph the whole thing for TAC Teatro, and eventually I will make a little documentary out of the more than 1,000 files I accumulated (film, sound and photos) over the five days of the meeting. First, let me note the companies and people present in addition to TAC and Teatro Ridotto:

dinner at finestre

dinner at finestre

  • Filo dei Venti (ITA/BRA/SPA)
  • Teatro dei Servi Disobbedienti (ITA)
  • Merida Urquia (COL)
  • Collettivo Hospites (ITA)
  • Prof. Roberto Murphy, Paulo José da Silva e Bruna Anita Hennings (BRA)
  • Miguel Jerez Lopez (SPA)
  • Rebeka Guerrero (SPA)
  • The ItinerAnts (ENG)
  • Erika Montoya (SPA)

  • We were blessed by the city of Aubervilliers to have been given the use of the Espace Renaudie as a workspace all day long throughout the week, and then we dined and also performed or rehearsed at TAC Teatro’s space, also located in Aubervilliers. The artists stayed in either hotel rooms provided by Aubervilliers, or at the homes of volunteer families of Aubervilliers that are in the habit of working together to house visitors during events in the city. What a great collaboration between the city and the companies.

    Ornella Bonventre (from back) directing work at Finestre

    Ornella Bonventre (from back) directing work at Finestre

    Teatro Ridotto has existed for 40 years this year, and is recognized as one of the leaders during that time in Italy in the so-called “third theater” movement. (The third theater “is a kind of theatre made by groups that create their own tradition, their main goal is to exist, resist, not trying to belong to the established theatre. Their own existence is resistance. They might work with ritual, politics, in alternative spaces like schools or prisons.” – Andrea Copeliovitch.)

    There was a certain leap of faith required from all participants involved in this first ever week of the event to be held outside Italy, but with Ornella’s TAC Teatro making great headway internationally and in planning events in and around Aubervilliers, Paris and elsewhere, as well as the strong reputation of Lina Della Rocca and her renown for holding this annual event, the whole thing ran without a hitch.

    Lina Della Rocca teaches at Finestre

    Lina Della Rocca teaches at Finestre

    Throughout the week the companies worked together showing their various methods of actor training, and then they worked as a complete group on a flash mob show, thanks to the suggestion of Ornella who desperately wanted to share as much as possible of the gathering with the community. Then the whole thing was again opened to the community with a final show of excerpts from the current work of each of the visiting companies, which was put on at the Espace Renaudie in a free performance for the public.

    On the first Tuesday evening TAC Teatro also put on a performance of its latest show, Ajamola, for all of the participants at its home theater space, and then Merida Urquia put on her show that was directed by one of the great actors of Odine Teatret, and ItinerAnts gave a taste of its famous “Tea Lady” performance, by Cinzia Ciaramicoli.

    group shot at finestre

    group shot at finestre

    All in all, the drawing together of more than 30 people from around the world with at one point five or six directors collaborating on a performance, was an exceptional example of how despite everyone having their own vision and ego, we can all work together when the goals are clearly defined and all leading to a show. It was quite breathtaking for me with the camera, I can assure you! And I don’t even want to mention the babel of four or five different languages being spoken every minute of the week!

    painting exercise at Finestre

    painting exercise at Finestre

    And the biggest proof of success is that Ornella and TAC Teatro, at least for their part (I can’t speak for the other guests), are already hungry to try to stage another such international event as soon as possible!

    card exercise at Finestre

    card exercise at Finestre

    PS: I made tons of videos over the week, but they cannot be posted raw, I need to edit them. So I will eventually post another blog item in the coming weeks with an edited video of some of the high moments of the event. The flash mob performance in the streets of Aubervilliers was definitely one of the high moments, and I got some fabulous footage of it. There were some wonderful moments in the final show of each company’s “personal” productions. Not to be missed!

    Lina Della Rocca and Ornella Bonventre at the end of Finestre

    Lina Della Rocca and Ornella Bonventre at the end of Finestre

    Giant Open Mic and Screening of Open Mic Film (excerpts) @ TAC Teatro

    February 15, 2023
    bradspurgeon

    A view through the entrance to TAC Teatro in Aubervilliers.

    A view through the entrance to TAC Teatro in Aubervilliers.

    PARIS – If you are in Paris on this date, please stop by TAC Teatro in Aubervilliers to participate in – or just check out – the open mic night we will be holding to celebrate the premiere of my Open Mic streaming series: “Out of a Jam.” This has now become an historic film of open mics in 20 countries over a one-year period – that year being 2011 ! This is my open mic film that ended up taking a year to film and a decade to edit into its final format: 21 episodes of between 19 and 23 minutes each. Each episode takes place in a different country – or some like NYC are spread out – and every one is structured with first, visit to the open mics of Paris – home base – and interviews with key people about a theme connected to the open mic; followed by a visit to a new country and its open mics, with interviews and films of the musicians there.

    I have decided to show excerpts from the series for the first time anywhere, at TAC Teatro, and then hold our own huge open mic. In the coming weeks I will post more information about it all, including more details about the location – it will be a night to remember, as we will be able to play and celebrate in the theater, in the cabaret and in the courtyard. I want to give a few little tours of those spaces by video when and as I can. There will be beer and wine to drink for real cheap – a key to the success of any open mic – and I will create the best sound system I can.
    “Out of a Jam” open mic film series generique

    I really want to see as many of the people who played in the open mic scene in Paris in 2011 as possible, since many of you will be in the film, and we can celebrate the time that has passed since then! And I want as many new faces, musicians and fans of open mics to attend as possible! This evening will be devoted to the open mic, and I will keep the film part to a minimum – unless people want more and more and more! – as my goal is to have as many of us play music, and talk and have fun, and I don’t want anyone feeling like a hostage in a cinema seat! That said, this series will be a real nostalgia trip for many of you, and the most complete look at the open mic phenomenon that I know of.

    Inside the theater at TAC Teatro where the main stage of the open mic will be and the film will be screened.

    Inside the theater at TAC Teatro where the main stage of the open mic will be and the film will be screened.


    I am giving you a little look at the opening credit video bit – above – that will go with each of the episodes. But keep in mind that while these little moments feature mostly me in different world settings, I repeat that the film is not about me. It’s about all of you who played or organized or attended as spectators the open mics at that time. During this evening in Aubervilliers I will focus as much as possible on the Paris parts where you can see yourselves – unless I have any of my friends from any of the other 20 countries showing up, and wanting to see their contributions… Japan, China, Malaysia, Brazil, Turkey… etc…!

    A look at the courtyard at TAC Teatro during a recent event, and where the open mic participants can go to talk and drink and smoke while not wanting to disturb musicians singing!

    A look at the courtyard at TAC Teatro during a recent event, and where the open mic participants can go to talk and drink and smoke while not wanting to disturb musicians singing!

    The date is 24 March 2023. I’ll keep you updated as we approach the hour….

    A TAC Teatro Report Part 2: “Ajamola” at the Espace Renaudie in Aubervilliers

    November 16, 2022
    bradspurgeon

    Ajamola at the Espace Renaudie 6

    Ajamola at the Espace Renaudie 6

    AUBERVILLIERS, France – It has taken me a while, but I desperately wanted to get this report up here before the next Ajamola show tomorrow in Aubervilliers. In my previous post I wrote about the great day with TAC Teatro at the Théâtre du Soleil with the Odin Teatret company, followed by the showing of my film interview/roundtable with Eugenio Barba at the Espace Renaudie municipal theater in Aubervilliers. The following day the magic really started when TAC Teatro performed its first of a season of scheduled performances of Ajamola at that same Espace Renaudie. (Tomorrow the show returns to 164 rue Henri Barbusse, TAC’s regular digs.) Both the challenge and the rewards were great at the 180-seat municipal theater!

    Ajamola was written and created by TAC Teatro for performing in a specific, non-traditional space: With spectators lining up on either side of the stage, and the play being performed in the middle of them. I’ve seen the play so many times that way that I had a hard time imagining that it would work as well in the traditional kind of theater space that it was necessary to use at the Espace Renaudie. That is to say, there is a stage – not a raised one, by the way – and in front of the stage sit the spectators.

    Cooley’s Reel Moment of Ajamola at the Espace Renaudie

    TAC, of course, had to bring its own special brand of performance even to this space, so the show began – as it usually does – in the bar area of the theater – where yours truly served the drinks! – but in this case, the bar area was up a couple of flights of stairs from the performance area. This meant a whole re-thinking of how the initial “performance” begins. (Doing away with a shopping cart that usually features in this first part of the show.)

    Ajamola at the Espace Renaudie 5

    Ajamola at the Espace Renaudie 5

    Pulled off perfectly, the new space even added another feeling to this first part of the show, something a little more special in this space where I suspect there has never been such a performance in the public area before.

    Then the show moved to the auditorium, and there the actors also used the whole room, and not JUST the stage area. Still, there were few opportunities for climbing up amongst the audience, and most of the show did take place in front of the spectators on the stage. It was a revelation! I had mentioned in a previous post some time ago that with this play – that combines every human emotion, acrobatics, music, singing, text, shadow puppetry and other kinds of puppetry – I often had the feeling of watching something of Shakespearian proportions. In fact, because our modern experience of watching Shakespeare tends to be flat on, stage to audience, as at the Espace Renaudie, I felt that same sense even more!

    TAC Teatro actors’ entrance in Ajamola in Espace Renaudie

    Some of the characters came to life in a completely different way than in the usual manner the company uses to perform. And the lighting crew at the Espace Renaudie did a fabulous job – along with Ornella Bonventre, the play’s director – of bringing tones and textures to the show that I am not used to as well.

    Ajamola at the Espace Renaudie 4

    Ajamola at the Espace Renaudie 4

    It was a really fabulous experience of rediscovery of a piece I know like the back of my hand, and all thanks to the changed performance space. But as Ornella always says, the space in which you perform is a partner in the show. And this illustrated it better than I could have imagined. It was also great that there were many more spectators present for the show than are even allowed in the space at 164 rue Henri Barbusse – creating another dimension again. Not only am I looking forward massively to the next performance of Ajamola at the Espace Renaudie on 10 January 2023, but I am also really looking forward to seeing it again tomorrow in its “traditional” environment at 164 rue Henri Barbusse.

    Tickets for either show may – and must – be reserved at: tac.teatro@gmail.com or at: 06 14 06 92 23

    Ajamola at the Espace Renaudie 3

    Ajamola at the Espace Renaudie 3

    Ajamola at the Espace Renaudie 2

    Ajamola at the Espace Renaudie 2

    Ajamola at the Espace Renaudie 1

    Ajamola at the Espace Renaudie 1

    A TAC Teatro Report Part I: At the Théâtre du Soleil with Odin Teatret, then at the Espace Renaudie for the film of Eugenio Barba

    November 12, 2022
    bradspurgeon

    Marine and Bruno prepare at Theatre du Soleil

    Marine and Bruno prepare at Theatre du Soleil

    PARIS – I wanted to do two quick reports, one today, the other maybe tomorrow, just to round up the amazing week with TAC Teatro. It started last Monday with the long-awaited double header starting at 8AM at Paris’s legendary Théâtre du Soleil in the Cartoucherie with the equally legendary Odin Teatret, then Monday evening at the Espace Renaudie in Aubervilliers, where we screened my interview/documentary film with Eugenio Barba, the founder of Odin Teatret.

    The morning event hinged around a couple of high moments: a conference given by Odin Teatret actor Julia Varley on the theme of the actor’s process of creation and training; which was followed by the actors of TAC Teatro performing excerpts from their latest show, Ajamola, for the spectators and for Eugenio Barba and Julia Varley.

    Odin and TAC people at Theatre du Soleil

    Odin and TAC people at Theatre du Soleil

    The conference was “prefaced” by introductions given by Ornella Bonventre, founding director of TAC Teatro, and by Raluca Mocan, a Romanian lecturer at a French university who is also a specialist on Odin Teatret. Varley’s conference was fabulous, starting with her echoing almost word-for-word what I’ve heard Ornella herself saying so often: As an actor she considers herself an artisan, not an artist. They build things – characters, plays, shows, etc., as an artisan might build a chair.

    all Ajamola actors at Theatre du Soleil

    all Ajamola actors at Theatre du Soleil

    Varley also spoke of the importance of the actual performance in unforgettable terms: Once you are on stage it is “not a democracy.” In other words, perhaps the actor can try all sorts of strange things during training and creation, but the performance is a dictator that requires the actors to follow the score laid out in advance and stay entirely inside the established character. I have certainly over-simplified that point, but that’s the rough idea.

    TAC Teatro performing the Cooley’s Reel moment of Ajamola

    After Varley’s grand performance as a lecturer, I felt a little worried about how the actors of TAC Teatro might be able to jump into their own characters from Ajamola and put on a convincing short excerpt from the show within confines that were far from anything even close to their usual performance space. As you can see from the video, it was a tight, obstructed space, where the actors did a fabulous job of reconstructing moments from the show – with Eugenio Barba, Julia Varley and others watching on. Ornella had planned this excerpt from the show as an homage to Odin Teatret, and there was every indication that it succeeded. Thanks to the actors, who did manage to get right into character and negotiate the space beautifully.

    Bruno and Marine preparing the performance of Ajamola in the Théâtre du Soleil foyer

    From the Théâtre du Soleil to the Espace Renaudie in Aubervilliers for the Screening of Eugenio Barba film

    Eugenio Barba in film at Espace Renaudie

    Eugenio Barba in film at Espace Renaudie

    In the evening, we moved on for the second part of the Odin tribute to the municipal theatre in Aubervilliers called l’Espace Renaudie, for which TAC was supported by the municipality of Aubervilliers. Here we showed in public for the first time the TAC-produced film, an interview with Eugenio Barba, which is a film in which I have a half-hour long interview with Barba about his life and the Odin Teatret. I conducted the interview, Ornella filmed it, and I did the editing, splicing in all sort of documents, photos and films from Odin’s own archive, dating back to the 1960s.

    It was a moment of great pride and wonder on my part to see the film on the big screen shown in front of a public in a 180-seat municipal theatre. Judging by the roundtable discussion that we then had following the film, it was a success. The roundtable was the chance to give all participants the floor to speak about the film, Odin and theatre in general. It went on for almost two hours.

    Another Eugenio Barba in film at Espace Renaudie

    Another Eugenio Barba in film at Espace Renaudie

    I will return with the report soon of the production of Ajamola itself in this same theatre in Aubervilliers the next day – with photos and videos….

    Ornella, Oscar and me arriving at the Cartoucherie at 8AM

    And another Eugenio Barba in film at Espace Renaudie

    And another Eugenio Barba in film at Espace Renaudie


    PS: By the way, Odin Teatret is currently present at the Théâtre du Soleil in order to show their latest play: Thebes au Temps de la fièvre jaune, which you can attend until the 19 November 2022, and buy tickets by clicking on this sentence I and the members of TAC Teatro will be attending all together as a company on 15 November, in case you want to join us!

    From Ornella in French: L’Odin jouera Thèbes jusqu’au 19, nous du TAC y allons le mardi 15, ceux qui veulent se joindre à nous sont les bienvenus (envoyez-moi un message). Toutes les informations ci-dessous.

    Hear us on the Radio now and Get to Ajamola tonight, at the Municipal Theater of Aubervilliers: Ajamola! of TAC Teatro

    November 8, 2022
    bradspurgeon

    Ajamola at Espace Renaudie in Aubervilliers

    Ajamola at Espace Renaudie in Aubervilliers

    AUBERVILLIERS, France – Just a very quick word to say you must listen to this radio interview of some of the members of TAC Teatro – including me, and me playing my songs live – and you must also, if you see this post between now and 8PM tonight, get out to see the show Ajamola. We are putting on the show for the first time in a municipal theater, that of Aubervilliers called L’Espace Renaudie, just outside Paris. There is still time to book your presence, if you call up the TAC number at: 0614069223 This is a big beautiful theater, and the show will be great to experience in this different environment!

    It is in this same theater that last night my film about Eugenio Barba was screened for the first time, and I will come back to that in the coming days on this blog. Now I have to prepare for Ajamola.

    But have a listen to this radio show that was aired in Aubervilliers last Friday (and I have been too busy with the film and other things to get a post up before now!) Here are direct links to the show itself, without passing through the radio station:

    The interview with TAC was 15 minutes long, and all in French, done by ‌Daniel Graisset at the AR.FM radio station:

    After this he approached me while I was playing some songs at the TAC Teatro stand of this local Fête du Quartier, and I was making a mess of both songs – the first “Mad World,” the second “Borderline,” my on song, for which for the first time ever I forgot some lyrics!:

    More to come about the incredible day of yesterday…

    Big Day Soon in Paris and Aubervilliers: Conference with Julia Varley of Odin Teatret and Premiere of TAC’s Documentary with Legendary Director Eugenio Barba

    October 12, 2022
    bradspurgeon

    Poster for the Barba film event.

    Poster for the Barba film event.

    PARIS – I’m already bubbling over with excitement about the premiere of my short, 30-minute, documentary/interview film with one of the giants of world theater of the last 60 years. I am talking about the work I did with Ornella Bonventre and her TAC Teatro – of which I am a company member since 2017 – and our interview with Eugenio Barba, founding director of the Odin Teatret of Denmark. The film will be screened next month, on 7 November, in the Espace Renaudie, a municipal theater in Aubervilliers, a suburb of Paris. It is part of a double-bill of activities with members of the Odin Teatret and TAC, beginning in the morning at the iconic Théâtre du Soleil of Paris.

    That’s a lot of stuff to pack into your brain in the first paragraph, so let me backtrack now a little: Eugenio Barba is an Italian-born director and writer who after working with the Polish theater master Jerzy Grotowski in the early 1960s, went on to create Odin Teatret – based in Holstebro, Denmark – and to become one of the great theater theorists of our times, as well as the founder of the International School of Theatre Anthropology. Odin has always been at the forefront of avant garde theater in the world, innovating in the area of what is often called “physical theater,” as it speaks as much, or more, through the movements of the body as it does through text. And even the spoken word itself – or the music – is considered a kind of physical action in the performance.

    The company was founded in 1964, and some of the actors that still make up the company have been with it since the 1970s, others for several decades. They are coming to Paris next month to put on their latest show, “Thèbes au Temps de la Fièvre Jaune,” at the Théâtre du Soleil. (The latter is another of the world’s great avant-garde theatrical institutions, also founded in 1964 and still directed by Ariane Mnouchkine.)

    The morning event with Julia Varley.

    The morning event with Julia Varley.

    The Odin show will run there from 8 to 19 November, and TAC Teatro, in collaboration with ARTA, Association de Recherche de Tradition de l’Acteur, and the Aubervilliers mayor’s office organized two events that will take place the day before the show opens, ie, on the Monday 7th November at 10AM in the Théâtre du Soleil, and the film premiere at the Espace Renaudie starting at 18PM, with, following the film, a roundtable discussion. The event starts by featuring especially the intervention of Julia Varley, one of the Odin Teatret actors, who will give a conference about the process of training and creation for the actor in the morning part of the program at the Théâtre du Soleil. Ornella will take part in that too, along with Raluca Mocan, a theater expert and member of the Husserl Archives of the Ecole Normale Supérieure.

    There will also be a hommage to Odin Teatret in the form of live performance extracts from TAC Teatro’s latest show, AJAMOLA by the actors of the company.

    I am very pleased to be able to show this documentary interview film that I did with Eugenio Barba the last time Odin Teatret visited Paris, with their previous show, called, “L’Arbre.” The interview was conducted outside at the Cartoucherie, and Ornella filmed it – and organized it – and also intervened with some of the most interesting questions – when I think I took over the camera briefly! It was a wide-ranging interview with Barba covering his life story, his theories of theater, the history of theater and of Odin, and even comments about the state of Paris’s theater landscape in general. It also contains a lot of footage and photos of Odin’s work through the decades.

    Brad Spurgeon interviewing Eugenio Barba.

    Brad Spurgeon interviewing Eugenio Barba.


    Taking place at the Espace Renaudie in Aubervilliers starting at 18PM, the screening is free of charge, and there are about 200 seats in the theater. So if you want to come, best to reserve in advance at tac.teatro@gmail.com or by telephone at: 06 14 06 92 23

    By the way, this is the same location where the full production of AJAMOLA will be performed several times this year and next – so if you like what you see in the performance extracts at the event at the Théâtre du Soleil…don’t hesitate to book for the show too!

    Peter Brook and Marcello Magni: Reflections on the Loss of Two Titans of World Theater in Two Months

    September 20, 2022
    bradspurgeon

    Marcello Magni. Photo credit: © Pascal Gely

    Marcello Magni. Photo credit: © Pascal Gely

    Peter Brook

    Peter Brook

    PARIS – Just a quick note, a thought, a loss and a regret. As if it wasn’t enough to learn of the death of Peter Brook in early July, yesterday brought the news of the death of Marcello Magni, one of Brook’s fetish actors. I am drawn to mention it on the blog because it was just over two and a half years ago that I did a post on this blog in which both featured: The Unique Vision of Peter Brook and Shakespeare’s Temptest Work-in-Progress at the Bouffes du Nord in Paris. The focus was on Brook, of course, so while I did speak about Marcello Magni’s wonderful contribution on stage, I did not mention the long talk we had after the show with the Italian, who died over the weekend at the age of 63.

    In reading through the various obituaries of this immensely talented actor, one thing I am not picking up from them is just how immense a man Marcello Magni seemed to be. As I said in my post in February 2020, despite living most of my adult life in Paris I had never made it to the Bouffes du Nord theater to see a Peter Brook production. When I did get to see it, and Peter Brook himself, I regretted the opportunities I had missed. But I suddenly saw vistas of possibilities to come.

    Brook and actors - Magni's arms are raised - taking a bow Photo: ©Brad Spurgeon

    Brook and actors – Magni’s arms are raised – taking a bow Photo: ©Brad Spurgeon

    Not only that night did Ornella and I see a great demonstration of work of Brook’s “Tempest” – with Magni playing Ariel – but after the show we said hello to – very briefly – Peter Brook, and then we met several of the actors in the theater’s lobby, and discussed theater with them. The one we found the most interesting, friendly, simple and engaging was Marcello Magni. We actually had no idea of quite who we were talking with, except that he was a brilliant Ariel, a regular Peter Brook actor, and that we had been impressed with his work onstage in the role, as well as during the demonstration of warm-up techniques for the actors that he showed the spectators.

    In the simplest sort of matter-of-fact conversation we might have with anyone, we spoke about the life of an actor in Paris, Italy, the UK, etc., as he and Ornella as two Italian theater people living out of Italy might do. He told us he had been in the UK for some 40 years, but before that he had studied in Paris with Jacques Lecoq, etc. It sounded like any aspiring actor Ornella might meet looking for a first job in TAC Teatro – although he was certainly not looking for work!


    Marcello Magni and his wife Kathryn Hunter earlier this year

    Only later did we find his history working with Peter Brook and the many roles in theater he had been involved in, and his co-founding of the Complicité theater company, etc. A real pillar of the the theater world on the level of the working actor…. Not a master innovating director like Brook himself, of course. But an extraordinarily talented and heavily occupied actor involved in many different areas – including some interesting television and film roles.

    We left our little meeting feeling, nevertheless, as if we had opened a door to meeting someone whom we could relate to and who shared, above all, Ornella’s conception of what theater and the life in the theater is all about. (My own involvement being very limited.) As this meeting had happened just as the Covid pandemic was beginning to take hold – in fact, a few weeks later Ornella would have to cancel TAC Teatro’s own “demonstration of work” on the show it is now putting on – Ajamola – and any dreams we might have had of continuing to attend Peter Brook shows at the Bouffes du Nord, or trying to make contact with any actors linked with any other theater companies, like Complicité, had all to be put on hold.

    Peter Brook and his actors in a huddle - Magni with back turned in foreground - after the show Photo: ©Brad Spurgeon

    Peter Brook and his actors in a huddle – Magni with back turned in foreground – after the show Photo: ©Brad Spurgeon

    That is why, now, after a little more than two years of near hibernation due to the pandemic – two years of putting many things on hold – that momentary meeting and feeling of hope in the way of great shows and theater-moments-to-come through the world of Peter Brook or Marcello Magni feels so suddenly, abruptly and cruelly at an end. There they were just yesterday in our minds and standing before us, and now, a little more than two and a half years later (but years that barely existed due to Covid) and both are gone. It feels a half century of history and lifestyle – theaterstyle? – has departed with them.

    That is the reason I felt compelled to write this blog entry today: DO NOT WAIT! Do not put off until tomorrow what wonderful thing you want to do. All the clichés about life being too short are true, and that is why they are there: Within the blink of an eye all we know and dream of doing will go, disappear with the passage of time. While we already knew that Peter Brook, on the verge of his 95th birthday at that time (he died at 97), was not likely going to be around that much longer, we could not imagine for a moment that the seemingly healthy and full-of-life Marcello Magni would be gone so soon. We must all live as if none of us has a moment to spare.

    Sundance on a Bunker in Sicily with Compagnia Ordinesparso – or Physical Theater at 4:40 AM

    August 15, 2022
    bradspurgeon

    Ornella and Brad on the Bunker in Sicily.  Photo Credit:  ©Claudio Colomba / https://claudiocolomba6.webnode.it/

    Ornella and Brad on the Bunker in Sicily. Photo Credit: ©Claudio Colomba / https://claudiocolomba6.webnode.it/

    CASTELLAMMARE DEL GOLFO, Sicily – There are few things I dislike more in life than getting out of bed for the day at 4:40 AM. Especially after going to bed at 1:40 AM (due to the birthday party of a 1-year-old). But the offer to join up with an Italian theater company to put on a ritual performance along with the rising of the sun above the Mediterranean Sea on the top of a World War II bunker overlooking some craggy cliffs at the Fossa Dello Stinco near Castellammare del Golfo in Sicily was just too great to resist. It was the same for Ornella Bonventre, and so it was that we joined Giovanni Berretta and his Compagnia Ordinesparso at sunrise and integrated his troupe for a 40-minute or so piece of physical theater, with a live soundtrack of drums and baritone saxophone. And while I may still be “jet-lagged” from the experience a day later as I write these words, I feel blessed to have been able to take part.
    Opening movements of the show from two of the stars of Compagnia Ordinesparso.  Photo Credit: ©Claudio Colomba

    Opening movements of the show from two of the stars of Compagnia Ordinesparso. Photo Credit: ©Claudio Colomba


    The whole thing did not happen just overnight, of course. (No pun intended.) Rather, Ornella, as the director of TAC Teatro, and a native of Castellammare del Golfo, had learned from her friend, a local filmmaker and photographer, Claudio Colomba, that Berretta was in town and doing a theater lab and a few performances. Ornella had also crossed paths with Berretta and his Compagnia Ordinesparso a few times in the past, so last week we went to watch one of their street performances, in one of the main boulevards of Castellammare. That took place during the heat of the night, with a couple of actors on a balcony above the boulevard, and the others in the street below, and it was quite impressive to see and hear.

    Preparing at the Apollo theater in Castellammare del Golfo with Giovanni Berretta

    We spoke to Berretta afterwards, and he invited us to take part in this performance on the morning of the day leading to the midnight celebration of Ferragosto, the Assumption of Mary religious holiday. If we accepted, we would have to go to one day of the workshop, the day before, the write a score to integrate the performance. This we did with great pleasure on Saturday evening, and it was my first time on the small, but fabulous stage of the main local theater, the Apollo, which is located in the center of Castellammare.

    Ferragosto Bunker Show  Photo Credit:  ©Claudio Colomba / https://claudiocolomba6.webnode.it/

    Ferragosto Bunker Show Photo Credit: ©Claudio Colomba / https://claudiocolomba6.webnode.it/

    There, much to my great fear of failure due to a horrendous tendonitis in my left arm, Giovanni simply ignored my plea that I was entirely incapable of any kind of physical stuff and would be better off just playing my guitar and singing. But with the help of my hugely gifted partner, Ornella Bonventre, taking the heavier load of responsibility for the movements – despite doctor’s orders against straining her recuperating knee injury – we managed, through Giovanni’s gentle and precise direction, to come up with a score and integrate the group.

    The group was made up of actors part of Compagnia Ordinesparso, as well as a few local amateurs who joined in as a theater activity, upon invitation by the event, which has some support from the local mayor’s office. Giovanni provided both the direction, as well as being the anchor of the performance, reciting texts to the sound of the musicians’ soundtrack. It was very impressive hearing the baritone sax, played by Tommaso Miranda, and drums, played by Domenico Sabella, at dawn; and the sound reminded me of a cross between the mix of Duke Ellington and John Coltrane as a duo, and some of the later work of Tom Waits!

    another of Ornella and Brad atop the bunker  Photo Credit:  ©Claudio Colomba https://claudiocolomba6.webnode.it/

    another of Ornella and Brad atop the bunker Photo Credit: ©Claudio Colomba https://claudiocolomba6.webnode.it/

    There was a third major partner here that I have not mentioned yet, but they came in during the final stage, which was the performance itself at just after 6 AM. This was the group of about 50 hikers who were led by the local exploring association called, CAI Castellammare del Golfo. (The letters stand for: Club Alpino Italiano. They explore local mountains, caves, seashore, forests etc.) Ornella and I and TAC Teatro had put on a performance last year with and for this same hiking organization, but then it was to celebrate the setting sun! (Which is much more naturally to my taste, as a late riser.)

    So it was that arising at 4:40 AM, we prepared ourselves and met the other actors and musicians at 5:15 close to the staging point, before heading on in several cars through the scrub vegetation at the seaside, and arrived at about 5:45 at the World War II bunker at the Fossa Dello Stinco. There the musicians set up the drums, took out the sax, warmed up; and so did the actors and Giovanni. We found our points of reference, spent some time figuring out how to mount the bunker – no easy thing, and in the end Giovanni himself lifted most of us up there – and we all warmed up too.

    Ornella Bonventre on stage at the Apollo theater preparing for the show in Castellammare

    We took our positions and waited until close to 6:15 or so – the sunrise was set for 6:20, according to my phone – the spectators began to arrive and placed themselves on the stones, rocks and vegetation around the performance area. And then began Giovanni’s recitations, the other actors’ movements, dance and contortions, and finally Ornella and I mounted the top of the bunker and did our part.

    Giovanni Berretta

    Giovanni Berretta


    musicians and Giovanni at the sunrise show  Photo Credit:  ©Claudio Colomba / https://claudiocolomba6.webnode.it/

    musicians and Giovanni at the sunrise show Photo Credit: ©Claudio Colomba / https://claudiocolomba6.webnode.it/

    The patient and talented director Giovanni had instructed me that my movements were to be a kind of action that reacted to Ornella’s movements, and her movements were that of the wind. Standing atop the bunker with the real wind gently blowing all around me, with a camera equipped drone hovering above, and with Claudio moving about in his various positions filming and photographing, with the saxophone and drums beating, and the sun rising mostly over my left shoulder as I looked at the rising hills and cliffs around me, the whole thing was a little bit like a natural religious experience and I had entirely forgotten the tendonitis in my left arm and shoulder!

    Only once it was finished did I realise that I knew several people in the audience both from last year’s event with TAC Teatro and from the organizers of the hike. It was a gentle and warm descent. (Although suddenly feared my shoulder pain as Giovanni had to lift me down the bunker back to hard earth!)

    the sea and sun perspective of the show  Photo Credit:  ©Claudio Colomba / https://claudiocolomba6.webnode.it/

    the sea and sun perspective of the show Photo Credit: ©Claudio Colomba / https://claudiocolomba6.webnode.it/

    My only regret during the experience was my inability to really be seeing all the details of how Ornella’s spectacular dance, as well as that of the other actors, must have appeared to the audience. I was part of the show, but with Ornella as my solid underpinning guide, it was a shoe-in there too…. Oh, and I am hoping that I will be able to see what Claudio eventually does with the film of the event, and I hope I will be able to put up a link to that on the blog soon!

    Happy Ferragosto!

    Panoramic of the performance area upon arrival

    Unloading the drums upon arrival to the bunker area

    Winding down moments after the sunrise performance ended

    Performing For and as Multitudes for and at TAC Teatro

    June 28, 2022
    bradspurgeon

    Brad and Peter under the spotlight

    Brad and Peter under the spotlight

    Asnières-sur-Seine, France – Now, if that headline is not an exaggeration, I don’t know what is. But at the same time, I had many roles to play yesterday in TAC Teatro’s year-end celebration of theater in Asnières-sur-Seine, outside Paris. I wanted to stamp this down here on the blog for several reasons: one is that I wanted to explain why there have been so few posts of late, the other is to celebrate yesterday’s achievements and fun, and finally, to get back in the groove of posting, period!

    I do hope that readers of this blog have been missing my posts as much as I have missed posting them. But I have been working like hell on several projects that have perturbed all of this: Most of my time has been involved in working on another book, which is supposed to be published by the end of the year; as well as working for the last two months writing in a temporary, limited-time gig for the United Nations. Someday I might go further into that, but not now.

    The point is, I have been occupied so full-time that I have barely had moments in the day to pick up my guitar, let alone to attend open mics. But one thing was certain: I had to help out Ornella Bonventre and TAC Teatro at the latest year-end gig at the Petit Theatre in the building of the Théâtre Armande Béjart in Asnières-sur-Seine. This year I had not one, but three roles to play.

    As with last year, I MC’d the show with my ventriloquial figure, Peter McCabe. Unlike last year, someone captured some photos of these bits. So I am happy to have those to show on the blog. Unlike last year, I also played a role in one of the plays…or rather, in a way, two of the plays….

    Brad as Chasuble with Ornella Bonventre and some of the children of TAC Teatro

    Brad as Chasuble with Ornella Bonventre and some of the children of TAC Teatro

    I played Chasuble in “The Importance of Being Earnest,” by Oscar Wilde, but in the French translation. That was tough! Or rather, I would have preferred to do it in English, but I had a great time playing the character! I felt a touch of destiny as my great, great, or maybe even another great, uncle, was a famous preacher, a precursor to Billy Graham, named Charles Haddon Spurgeon. Of course, Chasuble is not exactly a flattering representative of the profession.

    In the end, we did not perform the whole play, but just excerpts. I did this with the adult members of the TAC acting courses.

    Peter McCabe, through me somehow, had been selected by the adolescent students to be the central figure – yes, good choice of words – in the play that they wrote themselves, called, “Ce N’est pas une Comédie Romantique.” I thought that was a brilliant title, and I am sure it will be stolen! The English translation is, of course, simple: “This is not a romantic comedy.”

    Peter McCabe on stage in the ados show at TAC Teatro

    Peter McCabe on stage in the ados show at TAC Teatro

    Peter appeared alone in this show, although I had to wear Chasuble’s hat to cover myself and sit behind the chairs where sat Peter most of the time in order for me to whisper to him his lines, as he did not do the slightest effort towards memorisation.

    It was a fabulously successful evening, with more than 160 people present. And Ornella, who deserves every bit of praise for her success for this event, was also praised by the unexpected appearance of the deputy mayor of Asnières who showed up to launch the event. This was a fine moment of confirmation of all of Ornella’s work, as this deputy mayor was none other than Marie-Do Aeschlimann, the wife of the mayor, Manuel Aeschlimann, and herself in charge of childhood and education in the town. Only the week before this, she had run in the second round of the legislative elections.

    Brad and Peter with some Audience at TAC performance

    Brad and Peter with some Audience at TAC performance

    From all we heard and saw, the day was a great success, and I look forward to participating again next year! With Peter, of course.

    And I do hope to have some news soon from the open mics, and particularly from the success encountered by at least a couple of the bands or performers I met through my period of playing in the open mics around the world. There are a couple of recent success stories that I have been planning to write about for months, but keep getting side-tracked by the other work mentioned at the start of this post.

    Brad wondering how to deal with the kids beside Ornella Bonventre at TAC Teatro show

    Brad wondering how to deal with the kids beside Ornella Bonventre at TAC Teatro show

    Visiting “Les Grandes Personnes” at the Villa Mais d’Ici in Aubervilliers

    April 28, 2022
    bradspurgeon

    Les Grandes Personnes Close Up

    Les Grandes Personnes Close Up

    AUBERVILLIERS – I continue to be surprised by all of the cool cultural institutions, workshops and artistic spaces that I am discovering in Aubervilliers, a suburb of Paris, where TAC Teatro has been performing its latest show this season. A couple of days ago, TAC – well, Ornella and I – visited the Villa Mais d’Ici arts community to meet Les Grandes Personnes. “The Big People,” who were in rehearsal, are a troupe of really big puppets and puppet makers that was founded in 1998 and is one of the many artistic residents of the Villa Mais d’Ici.

    Where to start?!?! I think the photos and short videos I took will tell the story best on this one. But I do want to say that I felt for a moment as if I was in Budapest at the Szimpla Kert, and yet here, at the Villa Mais d’Ici, founded in 2003, there was a much, much bigger range of artistic endeavors. From the puppets to an office of architects to theater performers to a guitar luthier, it seemed that anything goes at the Villa Mais d’Ici. (Which, by the way, is clearly a play on words for the Villa Medicis.)

    Les Grandes Personnes in action in Aubervilliers.

    As I looked into the eyes of several of these fabulous puppet figures – which have now not only toured the world but also spawned imitators around the world – I felt like I was looking in the eyes of my own ventriloquial figure, Peter McCabe! But where I feel safe arguing with Peter, no way I would get in a fight with one of these behemoths!

    Ornella and I were wonderfully received by the director Pauline de Coulhac, who is also an actress who works with masks, and who over lunch told us about how the concept has grown over the years, “When we started out,” she said, “we were considered nothing but carnival performers. I am proud of that, but it is interesting that it all grew into us now being seen as street artists. And we are!”

    A bit of a look around the Villa Mais d’Ici with Les Grandes Personnes.

    I learned that my feeling of looking in the face and eyes of my own Peter McCabe was not based on nothing: These heads are also made from papier maché. The mechanisms that provide their underlying structure, however, are made by Maurizio Moretti, a mechanical engineer (static equipment and package engineer), who suddenly got bit by the bug of building puppets!

    Ornella Bonventre of TAC Teatro with one of the Grandes Personnes.

    Ornella Bonventre of TAC Teatro with one of the Grandes Personnes.

    Ornella Bonventre, Peter McCabe and Brad Spurgeon

    Ornella Bonventre, Peter McCabe and Brad Spurgeon

    I took a brief side trip into the atelier of the luthier, Adrien Collet, who it turns out shares dozens of friends with me on Facebook, and since I lost my last luthier who moved to the south of France, I will now know where to go to fix my almost chronically ill Seagull S6.

    Les Grandes Personnes

    Les Grandes Personnes

    But it will also be an excuse to return to see the Grandes Personnes and explore the rest of this artistic community!

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